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A Red Flag Communication from Dr. Marc B Cooper

DENTISTS FORGET THEY ARE FRONTLINE WORKERS

“Due to the characteristics of dental practice, the risk of cross infection between patients and dental practitioners is high.” - CDC

I have a client, a successful dentist-owner with several locations, hub and spoke model for his specialty practice, good guy, impressive leader, very smart too. He’s been a good client for years. This past Monday he tested positive for Covid-19 as did some of his staff. In addition, he reported several dentists in his area tested positive as well.

He lives in a state that has basically “opened up.” His statement to me was "We're just ahead of the curve. Every state will be where we are. Many dentists will be where I am.”

When my client heard the news all the emotions erupted - fear, shame, fault. Worry for his family’s safety. Worry about the position that this puts the practice given patients had to be called and informed. Worried, it is a deadly disease so ‘life threatening’ thoughts loomed in his head. The potential life-altering breakdowns from this viral event could be catastrophic in every area of his life, even life itself.

For me, it brought up two critical questions. First question, what are practicing dentists’ susceptibility to contracting COVID-19? For real data on this, it can be only measured in time since most practices just opened. But it seems obvious dentists will be likely on the high side of the Medium risk category and might even have their feet in the High risk zone depending on location.

The dentist rate of infections is yet to be determined – but as a profession we need to know the risks. You can’t manage risk until you identify the risk.

Dentist need to really get they are frontline workers. And being a frontline worker, the likelihood encountering the virus is significantly higher, than other venues. It is inevitable that a percentage of dentists, what percentage we don’t know, will be infected.

Simply taking temperatures, reading Pulse Oximeters, having all the PPE, along with asking the standard questions, just won’t be enough protection from asymptomatic patients that carry the virus or patients just beginning their incubation period. There aren’t enough tests to know, and the accuracy of the antibody tests are as yet unconfirmed.

Furthermore, who your staff encounters, the conditions they put themselves in after work, is totally out of the practice’s control. Your influence disappears when they are off the clock. And who knows where your patients have been.

The second and equally important question; does the dental practice have protocols, processes, staffing requirements, compensation adjustments, and what to say to patients and to the market if the doctor gets sick with Covide-19? Do they have a plan about how to communicate to the patients and the market in such a way that patients and market do not consider the practice a death trap?

It is clear to me, and I hope to everyone else reading this post, there is absolutely no plan to address the issues of a dentist who becomes infected and then recovers from Covid-19.

What is the process of returning a post-Covid-19 dentist to their practice? What should they do, and when should they do it, to have the practice be viable? You knew what you needed to do to open. Best consider this as important.

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